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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Worried Moscow Sets Sights on Kabul

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov made clear Tuesday that Russia will boost assistance to the peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan once NATO takes over, in a clear sign that Moscow is growing more concerned about instability and drug trafficking along its southern frontiers.

Ivanov told fellow ministers at a Cabinet meeting that he offered technical aid to NATO earlier this month and that the alliance, which will dispatch peacekeepers to Afghanistan this summer, "accepted this offer with gratitude."

In addition to sharing intelligence, as it is doing with the current U.S.-led coalition, Russia will provide logistical and technical support as well as transportation services to NATO peacekeeping troops, Ivanov said last week at a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium.

He said, however, that Russia will not send any personnel to Afghanistan where Soviet troops withdrew in defeat after a decade of war.

NATO-Russia talks are focusing on the possible transit of NATO personnel and hardware over Russian territory, a Defense Ministry official, who asked not to be identified, said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Some NATO members also are discussing whether to use Russian heavy-lift cargo planes for the peacekeeping deployment, a NATO official said by telephone from Brussels.

The NATO official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that Ivanov's offer of logistical support and overflight rights had been welcomed warmly but noted that details of any possible cooperation have yet to be formalized in an agreement.

The Defense Ministry official said Moscow's rekindled interest in Afghanistan has been fueled partially by the failure of Afghanistan's U.S.-installed administration to end divisions and infighting among warlords. This threatens to destabilize Central Asian countries such as Tajikistan, whose border with Afghanistan is protected by thousands of Russian guards, the official said.

More important, he said, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration has failed to curb the production of drugs, which get smuggled via Central Asia to Russia and Europe.

"This is of special concern given the fact that this year Afghanistan will have a record harvest," he said, referring to opium, which is used to make heroin.

In addition to pledging support to NATO's peacekeeping efforts, Russia has been pushing the United Nations to play a more active role in clamping down on drug trafficking in Afghanistan. At Russia's request, the UN Security Council was to discuss Tuesday how to deal with the growing tide of drugs out of the country.

Seventeen of Afghanistan's 32 provinces reported an increase in opium crops this spring, according to an Afghan government statement carried by Agence France Presse.